A Tale of Three Lounges

You haven’t heard from me in a while because the BITA family was on vacation. We were in Lisbon, Amsterdam and Split for nearly three glorious weeks. Becoming a productive member of the workforce again has been tough and I can barely wait for the day when the end of a vacation does not imply a return to cubicle-hood.


We flew from San Francisco to Zurich, and from there to Lisbon. We got to sample lounges at all three airports and today I’m going to give you the lowdown on our lounge experiences.


Why We Have Access to Airport Lounges

First things first though. Why do we have access to airport lounges? Neither Mr. BITA nor I travel enough via work to earn airline status, and when we are on vacation we fly economy class. So how do such lowly coach roaches manage to sneak into the hallowed halls of plush airport lounges?


The secret is credit card churning. We apply for certain credit cards and earn large bonuses when we meet the minimum spend requirements. As a side effect, we enjoy certain perks offered by these cards.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) offers Priority Pass Membership as one of its many, many benefits.  

“You and your authorized users can access 900+ VIP airport lounges worldwide with Priority Pass Select and enjoy lounge amenities such as WIFI, free snacks, beverages and more when you activate your membership.”

The Priority Pass card that comes with the CSR allows not just you, but all your traveling companions, to traipse into a Priority Pass lounge and partake of the bounty.

We’ve used our Priority Pass membership to access The Club at SJC, and you can read my review of that lounge here.

We also have a Chase United MileagePlus Explorer (MPE) card, and one of the benefits of the MPE is two free one-time-use guest passes to a United Club lounge.


Lounging at SFO

At SFO we decided to use our guest passes to sample the United Club lounge.

Of all the lounges I have ever set foot in (admittedly that is not a very long list), this one was the worst. The staff at the front desk were grumpy. They did decide to let Toddler BITA in for free though. The conversation with something like this:

Me, smiling brightly and presenting our guest passes: Good morning!
Grumpy receptionist (GR), disagreeing with my assessment of the morning: Hmph.
GR: These are valid for two adults only. There is a charge for children.
Me (Still a ray of sunshine. After all, it is the start of a glorious three weeks off): No problem. How much is it?
GR pecks at a few random keys on a terminal and then shuffles some papers around.
GR: Go on in.
I gave him my best baffled look.
GR: It’s ok. No charge for her. Most people argue. You didn’t argue.


Who says that nice guys finish last?

We entered the lounge at around 6 p.m. and it was crowded. Nearly every seat was taken, and we counted ourselves lucky to find a table with three upright chairs that were decidedly anti-loungey.

united club lounge sfo
A sampling of the food available at the United Club lounge


At least they had a bar, though the service was slow, and there were minimal house liquors complementary. Even an old fashioned would have cost extra. To quote Mr. BITA “As I recall they had shite gin, shite whiskey, a red and a white wine. If they had shite beer it was so shite that I erased it from memory.”


The lounge does offer a great view of planes on the tarmac, so if plane watching is your thing, then that is a redeeming factor.

The lounge was noisy, crowded and not particularly relaxing. We drowned our disappointment in a couple of drinks, snacked a little and then made our way to our gate to start our holiday.

If you have the MPE card and the two United Club guest passes do not waste your passes at the lounge in SFO.


Stopover at Zurich

We had a 3 hour layover at Zurich, so we took ourselves off to the lounge there. Near our gate we had a choice of not one, but two Priority Pass lounges – the Aspire lounge and the Dnata lounge. We randomly picked Aspire.

In sharp contrast to the Grumpy Receptionist at SFO, at the Aspire lounge we were greeted courteously, and made to feel most welcome. The Aspire lounge is a bit weird in that it is actually two separate lounges, not connected on the inside. We spent most of our time in the ‘inner’ lounge – the one that didn’t have much of a view, because that one had the comfier couches.

Aspire airport lounge zurich food
Aspire had a decent food selection. A couple of pastas, chilli, cold cuts, cheese, fresh fruit, baked goods, three soups, and vegetables.


Aspire airport lounge bar
The lounge had a good coffee machine and a self service bar for liquor…..


United club priority pass lounge
….and another for wine. There were little placards with descriptions of all the wines on offer.

Toddler BITA got to do a couple of puzzles on the wide flat couches, while we experimented with the wines. After we had all eaten we stepped into the ‘outer’ lounge for a view of the terminal before heading off to board our flight to Lisbon.

I give this lounge a solid thumbs up.


My Favourite Lounge on This Trip

We spent three nights in Lisbon, and then headed off to Amsterdam. When we flew out of Lisbon, we were traveling with my mother and father as well. The ANA lounge at Lisbon International was my favourite lounge of this trip. We used our Priority Pass membership to access this lounge, and on a single membership card they admitted 4 adults and 1 child.


ANA Airport Lounge Lisbon Priority Pass
This lounge is spacious, and has a nice open floor plan. There are a variety of seating options – recliners, couches, tables and chairs.


united club priority pass lounge

They even had rooms in the back where one could lay down and catch some shut-eye in private.

Mr. BITA and Toddler BITA goofing around while I attempt to take a picture for the blog


Churn Baby, Churn!

To state the obvious, I am a big fan of airport lounge access. I love not having to pay atrocious airport prices for food and drink. I love the feeling of luxury that comes from traipsing into an exclusive area, away from the crowds. I love the relative quiet of the lounges, the beautiful clean bathrooms with no lines, access to showers, comfy seating, the internet and charging stations.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, through which we got our Priority Pass membership, has an annual membership fee of $450. It comes with a $300 travel credit, so effectively the fee is $150. I think it is safe to say that our card has more than paid for itself (even without taking into consideration the hefty 100,000 point signup bonus, no foreign transaction fee and the 3x points on travel and dining).



5 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Lounges”

  1. We have the CSR but haven’t had the chance to use any airport lounges yet! NONE – ever! Our connections have always been so tight that we just make it to the next plane 🙂 But more extensive travel is in our future plans. I honestly just hope we don’t forget about them!

  2. Nice review! My only experience was with the United lounge in Buenos Aries. Nice showers, decent snack foods, comfy sofas and seats, and self serve liquor, beer, and wine, similar to your Zurich lounge experience. If you have the means, I highly recommend it, lol.

    Like you, I think having access could cover the costs of airport food and drink if you are choosing between one or the other. If you can get it effectively free by churning a card, then yeah. Something I should look into. Or at least upgrading my Chase card if I start traveling more. 🙂

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